Financial Wellbeing: an appeal to psychologists

by Kim Stephenson

What do you, a business psychologist, know about financial wellbeing or financial capability?

Your reaction maybe “nothing, I can’t handle my own money well, I certainly can’t help clients – organisations or individuals”. You wouldn’t know where to start.

The common perception is that anything “financial”, including wellbeing, is all about money.

But money doesn’t get depressed, have retail therapy and spend itself. A coin doesn’t go to Relate because it keeps arguing with its partner about itself. A credit card doesn’t spend itself now and fail to save itself for retirement.

People make the decisions, take the silly actions, get emotionally burned. People have feelings, cognitions and behaviours, the things that get them into financial trouble.  People also fail to prioritise and learn things that would be useful to them, such as “getting around to” working out a budget for their money or looking up where they can get the best return on their savings.

In 2008 de Meza et al. of the LSE produced research for the regulator of financial advice in the UK:

“Overall, there is a lack of direct evidence that the National Strategy for Financial Capability will substantially improve long-term financial decision making. The indirect evidence from behavioural economics is that low financial capability is more to do with psychology than with knowledge.”

But there’s still the idea that all people need to change their behaviour, to control their weird emotional responses and make good, long-term decisions, is to be given financial information. Then, if they are told to save more, avoid payday loans and put money into pension, they will be rich and happy.

We psychologists know that giving information like that doesn’t help to change behaviour (Zeedyk et al, 2001), which was also a conclusion of de Meza and colleagues:

“If poor financial capability is mainly a matter of psychology, the information-based approach of the National Strategy for Financial Capability is likely to have only a modest effect in improving outcomes.”

After all, if people changed based on “good” advice, then we wouldn’t have 70% with uncontrolled debts and more than 60% overweight – we’d save more, eat less and exercise more.

And the evidence is that this blindness has huge personal and organisational cost:

  • Financial stress costs the UK economy £120.7 billion, and 17.5 million hours were lost because of absence from financial stress (Neyber 2016).
  • 40% of employee’s state money worries have caused them stress over the past year (Evans 2016).
  • For every £1 million an organisation spends on payroll, it is estimated that it loses 4% of productivity due to poor employee financial well-being (Barclays 2014).
  • One in four workers report money worries have affected their ability to do their work (CIPD 2017).


People are important, money was designed (by people) as a tool, one in a whole toolbox to develop wellbeing.

People are complex, money is simple. Can you know 90% of what there is to know about money (yes, that’s what finance people do). Can you know even 10% of what there is to know about human behaviour, emotion and thinking? No, the brain is the most complex single entity in the universe.


So what?

I’m trying to change the concept of finance and wellbeing. In schools, in the workplace, in life. My starting point is working with client organisations to educate them about the fact that people are more important and complex than money, and people make all the decisions, do the daft things, and suffer the emotional consequences, while the money is just an inanimate object.

With our skills and knowledge we psychologists are better placed to help people build a full, happy life and use money as a tool than a raft of financiers, bankers and economists who know all about money, but nothing about human cognition, emotion or behaviour.

We’ve got the skills to help people make money their tool, rather than a God to pursue, or a Devil to fear.

We have the skills needed to help organisations be more productive, less stressful places to work, and to allow people to get real value from their pay and benefits. Similarly, we can help children and adults learn complex life skills, such as emotional control and decision making, to allow them to handle simple matters like money for themselves.

I’m really keen to work with people on this, so if it of interest, please contact me



Kim is the only person in the world who is qualified and has practiced as a financial advisor and a psychologist. He’s currently marketing to organisations to rethink financial wellbeing, and provide good psychological help to staff to make use of their money to build a happy life. The figures show that this could save people untold distress, build happiness and save companies around 6% of salary roll per year!



Barclays( 2014) Financial Well-being: The Last Taboo in the Workplace?, Barclays available at, accessed 10/1/18

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. (2017) Financial well-being: the employee view. London: CIPD. Available at: financialwellbeing, accessed 10/1/18

de Meza, D, Irlenbusch, B & Reyniers, D (2008) Financial capability: A behavioural economics perspective, FCA, available at accessed 10/1/18

Evans. K (2016) Working Well How employers can improve the wellbeing and productivity of their workforce, Social Market Foundation, available at accessed 10/1/18

Neyber ltd. (2016) The DNA of financial wellbeing: summary report [online]. London: Neyber. Available at: https://www.neyber. [Accessed 10/1/18).

Zeedyk, M. S; Wallace. L; Carcary, B; Jones, K; Larter, K (2001) Children and road safety: Increasing knowledge does not improve behaviour; British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 71, Issue 4